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Come On, Arlene: What Will The DUP Ask Of The Tories?

09/06/2017 14:23
Charles McQuillan via Getty Images

A few weeks ago, no one was watching Northern Ireland. A quiet constitutional crisis was brewing while the Westminster commentariat stayed focused on SW1. Today, all eyes are on Ulster, and the shape of the Government hangs in the balance as May looks to the Democratic Unionist Party to prop up her Conservative minority.

Since the exit poll indicated that the Tories would fall short of the 326 seats required for a majority, the DUP have been enjoying a brief spell in the sun, resolutely aware of the strength of their hand.

Their website crashed this morning as voters scrambled to find out who they are and what they stand for, while party officials remained locked in talks with the Conservatives throughout the night.

At the time of writing, there has been no decision whether the two parties will enter formal coalition or a confidence and supply agreement, but speculation is circulating on what the DUP's key asks will be.

Brexit is likely to dominate discussions before May takes to the Rose Garden with DUP leader, Arlene Foster. While Sinn Fein have been the most vocal on the subject, the DUP have been clear that any hard border with the Republic would be disastrous. Central to any agreement will be assurances on the border's future that go beyond the facile 'practical solution' that has been offered thus far.

The DUP's interest in Brexit goes beyond the border issue alone. In the past, leader Arlene Foster has said that "no-one wants to see a 'hard' Brexit" and their manifesto has far looser commitments on immigration than the Conservatives. Foster will have one eye on the 56% Remain vote in Northern Ireland, wary of the impact that a Hard Brexit could have on the new demographic of voters who see themselves as neither British or Irish, but as Northern Irish.

And finally, the DUP will want assurances on the constitutional future of Northern Ireland. With an impending Brexit building appetite for a possible border poll, the DUP are likely to use this unique position to ensure that provisions around a vote on a united Ireland are bound strictly to the terms of the Belfast Agreement.

Today marks a reversal of fortunes for the DUP. In three, seemingly eternal months, they have gone from suffering significant losses in the Assembly, to making kings in Westminster. Over the coming days the extent of the DUP's impact will become clearer, but already this marks an unprecedented level of influence from Belfast on a UK Government.

As the people of Scotland, England and Wales grapple with the idea of this influence, the people of Northern Ireland can rest assured that they won't be forgotten any time soon.

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